The invincible king - Psalm 2

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the morning service on 10th June 2001.

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They called him the Great. He far outstripped the achievements of his father and he was thought to be the greatest general of his race, and probably in ancient history. His own achievements were almost incredible. He swept across much of the known world, taking everything in his path with minimum of fuss. He was almost foolhardy in his bravery, always leading the charge and putting himself in grave danger. He had a brilliant tactical mind and his soldiers thought he was a god. He was ruthless, extravagantly vengeful when someone got in his way, and passionately driven to the last. He died at the age of 33, longing to conquer the whole world, and not far short of it. His name? Alexander the Great. The greatest man of his generation, indeed of ancient history. And yet how many of us know his achievements, or even his name? Human power, however strong at the time, is fleeting and fickle. As politicians and political parties know only too well power comes and goes like the ebbing of seas.

But this morning we are looking at a passage of scripture which will tell us that there is one King whose kingdom will never fall and his power will never wane. It’s a message which we need to hear and take to heart again in a world that changes as often as the days, and in which power shifts from one to another. What stability is there? What anchor do we have in this constant power shift? Well the psalmist will tell us that the one firm anchor we need and have is Jesus Christ. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. While many fall, this King stands forever.

We’re beginning a new series this morning entitled "The King of kings: Jesus and the Psalms". Now it may strike you as strange that we could find anything about Jesus in the Psalms. They were written hundreds of years before Jesus. What could they possibly say about him? And yet the consistent witness of the New Testament is that the Psalms do tell us about Jesus. It may surprise you to know that the book of Psalms is the most quoted book in the NT. There are about 130 direct quotations in the NT and more than 220 allusions. Of the 150 Psalms in the OT, 121 are quoted or alluded to in the NT. That is a staggering total, especially when we often think of the book of Isaiah or other prophets as being important. The first Christians clearly thought that the Psalms were very important. And not only the Christians. Jesus himself taught that the whole Bible including the Psalms were actually about him. For example, when Jesus reveals himself to his disciples after his resurrection, he says that "Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms." So the Psalms are about Jesus. That’s the claim. Jesus, if you like, is a key which unlocks for us the Bible as a whole and the Psalms and helps us to see their ultimate fulfilment. So the Psalms are more than simply the church’s hymnbook, or a collection of poems which help us in times of need. They are that. But they are much more than that. They are poems which point us to Jesus.

And the reason is this. The experience of the people of Israel, the chosen son of God, is a foretaste of the experience of The Son of God, Jesus Christ. And more specifically, the experience of God’s chosen leader of Israel, the King, is a foretaste of the experience of The chosen leader of Israel, Jesus Christ. You see the King of Israel was known as the anointed one. God had anointed his King to rule his land and look after the people. And God had given to his King tremendous promises which could never have been fulfilled in Israel’s history, but were looking forward to a great time when a future King would rule the whole world and be invested with incredible power. Those were the promises that the first King of Israel, David, received from God in 2 Samuel 7. David was the first anointed king. Now in Hebrew the word translated ‘anointed’ was ‘Messiah’ and in Greek, the ‘Christ’. And yet David never saw those promises fulfilled. He was looking forward to a future time. And so when David writes his psalms, he is writing as God’s anointed King. But not only do they speak of David and his achievements as the earthly king of Israel, they also look forward to great David’s greater Son, whom the NT claims to be Jesus Christ. And it is in this way that the Psalms point beyond their own context, to a far greater King, Jesus, the King of kings.

And Psalm 2 is no exception. The NT tells us that it is by David. It is one of the most frequently quoted psalms in the NT, being quoted or alluded to some 18 times. In its original context it may have been a coronation psalm, the sort of hymn sung to the new King as he sat on his throne. But the first Christians saw that it found its ultimate fulfilment in Jesus. And it is in that NT light that will study this psalm this morning. And we’ll discover three remarkable things about this King Jesus:


1) The King’s Rejection (vv 1-3)

2) The King’s Authority (vv 4-9)

3) The King’s Demand (vv 10-12)

1) The King’s Rejection (vv 1-3)

So first, then, there is the King’s Rejection. Verse 1. David asks: "Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?" And notice who that rebellion is against: "The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and his anointed one." So David tells us that the rulers and kings are against God and his anointed one, the messiah. Now of course, in its original context, the anointed one was David. Kings and rulers were revolting against Israel and her king. And behind the earthly king was God, the holy one. "Let us break their chains, they were saying, and throw off their fetters." Let’s break away from David’s rule and have it our own way. And notice that to break free from the anointed one is to break free from God. To reject God’s King is to reject God himself. And the NT sees the anointed one to be Jesus. God’s King is now Jesus. He’s the Christ. And still today, the nations and rulers plot and rage against him. They see God’s rule as slavery. They want to break off the fetters.

Nations all over the world are doing just that. I heard recently that in South Africa it is becoming illegal for people to speak openly against homosexuality and abortion. Ministers runs the risk of being prosecuted or arrested for taking clear public stands on Christian morality. The government wants to break free from the fetters of God’s rule. And in our own country, there are already motions in the pipeline which may mean that for a Church like St. John’s we may run the risk of being prosecuted for not employing a gay administrator or student ministers. It sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? But it’s not scare mongering. It is already beginning to happen and may well come to pass. This is the natural consequences of nations plotting against God and his holy one Jesus. And yet it is not just the nations. It’s individuals across the world. Each of us in our hearts are natural rebels. We are plotters and ragers against God. We want to shun the fetters of God’s morality. We dislike his burden of demands upon our time and money and energy. Each one of us is naturally disposed against God and his holy King Jesus.

And where does that ultimately lead? Well the early church in Acts 4 saw these verses of this Psalm fulfilled at the crucifixion of Jesus. The rulers and kings were those who put Jesus to dead. God’s anointed one was openly and publicly rejected. They were literally plotting against him and it led to his death. Herod and Pontius Pilate, they said, met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city of [Jerusalem] to conspire against God’s holy servant Jesus, whom [God] anointed." That’s the natural extension of man’s hostility to his God. In the end we put him to death. And each one of us are in some way responsible. We too played our part. We too have rejected the King. And yet before we move on, notice what kind of rebellion this is? Did you notice in verse 1? The peoples plot in vain. You see I guess like me you watch your TV screens and read your newspaper and cry out: "How long O Lord? How long will this rebellion last?" And God’s answer is not forever. For such plotting, whilst terrible, is ultimately in vain. Why? Well that brings us on to our second discovery about Jesus.


2) The King’s Authority (vv 4-9)

The King’s Authority. This plotting is ultimately in vain, because Jesus is the King who has been given power and authority, and he will triumph. Just see what God thinks of man’s plotting and rebellion. Verse 4: "The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them." God looks at kings and governments, men and women shaking their puny little fists at him, and he just laughs. The whole idea is laughable. He mocks and scoffs at their pathetic attempt to usurp his authority. It’s as stupid as a goldfish plotting to break out of its bowl and take over the house. How ridiculous. It’s laughable. And yet it’s not funny. It’s actually deadly serious. Verse 5: "God rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath." God won’t just laugh, he’ll punish. Yes, rebellion is laughable, but it is also deadly serious. As we’ll see later those who continue in rebellion against God and his anointed King Jesus will suffer the consequences. And that should be a great encouragement to us as Christians. As we look out on our world, we see rebellion everywhere. And yet one day God will deal with it forever. The plotting is in vain. God laughs at it and then deals with it. But how will God show this power and authority? Well the answer is through his anointed King, the Lord Jesus Christ. And his authority is seen in four ways.


a) Jesus’ Enthronement- Verse 6. God says: "I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill." In contrast to the nations making their empty boasts, this verse comes as a sharp wake up call. God himself speaks. The ‘I’ is emphatic. I have done this, says God. You may try all sorts of things against me, but I am God, and I am doing this. And what is this? To install my king in my city. At first it would be the earthly King David in Jerusalem. But now it is King Jesus in heaven. He is the true King of kings. This is how God stops the rebellion. He puts his King in place. And how is Jesus shown to be the King? Through his resurrection and ascension. Do you remember what Paul says in Philippians 2: "God has exalted Jesus to the highest place and given him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord." Whether you like it or not, Jesus is King. Do you bow to him willingly? For one day you will whatever. Far better to do it now with a willing spirit.


b) Jesus’ Sonship- But Jesus’ authority is also seen in his sonship. Verse 7. It is the anointed one himself who is speaking here and he says: "I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me: ‘You are my Son, today I have become your father.’" Now as we saw at the beginning, God had promised to Israel that they would be his son, and to David in 2 Samuel 7 that he would be the son in a special sense. And yet God’s promises to David and the people of Israel would never be seen in the fullest extent. But in the NT, the first Christians were convinced that Jesus was the Son of God par excellence. He was that King who had been promised throughout Israel’s history. And throughout Jesus’ life he receives great commendations from his Father that he is the Son of God in the fullest possible sense. We see it first in his baptism, and then at his temptation, as the devil tempts him to doubt whether he truly is the Son of God, at his transfiguration, as we get a hint of his true glory, and at his resurrection and ascension. There can be no doubt whatsoever that Jesus is God’s Son.

But why does the psalm say ‘today’? Surely Jesus is the Son for ever? Well Paul helps us on this at the beginning of Romans as he says that Jesus "is declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead." It’s not that Jesus becomes the Son in terms of who he is. Rather it refers to his position as King. He has always been the Son of God and the King of kings, but his resurrection and glorious ascension show him to the whole world to be that Son and King promised in the OT. These events declare it. And in that sense Jesus becomes the Son of God. It’s not so much his person, rather his declaration of his task completed. The job is done, and he is the Son of God.


c) Jesus’ Inheritance- But then thirdly we discover Jesus’ inheritance. And it is the nations of the world, and the ends of the earth in verse 8. Jesus is the King over the whole world, and everything is his. Now that means that everywhere from Hull to Honduras, Newland to New Zealand is his world, his land. And yet it is far more than simple territory. It is people he is inheriting. People like you and me are the nations of his possessions. God’s promise to Israel was that they would be a blessing to the nations. And it is through Israel’s Messiah Jesus that blessing comes. We too can become part of his inherited people through the gospel about Jesus. We too become his possession. Isn’t that extraordinary. And of course that is a wonderful incentive for evangelism. To think that the people down Newland Avenue could be God’s possession is a wonderful spur to us to press on with gospel work. Jesus is King over the whole world and people like you and I are his possession through the gospel. The King is willing to offer an amnesty to rebels like you and me and that is the brilliant news of the gospel. Our rebellion need not be punished. It can be taken by Jesus himself. He can still make us part of his glorious inheritance.


d) Jesus’ Rule- But then lastly in this section we see Jesus’ authority in his rule. Verse 9: "You will rule them with an iron sceptre, you will dash them to pieces like pottery." The fact of the matter is that Jesus’ amnesty won’t last forever. He will destroy his enemies. Jesus above anyone else in the NT is the most clear on the eternal punishment that awaits those who continue to rebel against him. But it’s a mark of his love that he tells us. He wants no-one to be cut off from him forever. He longs for all to be present with him. And that is why he is so blunt. Don’t rebel, he says. Come back to me. Otherwise you will have to face eternity under my wrath. You will be dashed to pieces. I guess we will all be familiar with the sight of a toddler running ahead of his parents on a road. And as the parent looks up, he sees the child about to run straight across the road in front of him. And the parent shouts out: "Sam, stop!" And Sam stops dead in his tracks terrified and burst into tears. And his father comes up to him and says: "I had to shout at you, because if you had kept running, you would have been killed." And Jesus like a loving parent makes it very clear what will happen if we continue to rebel. The amnesty won’t last forever. He will call us to account. And he’ll smash his enemies like pottery. For he rules not just with love but also with justice.

So the King’s authority is very clear. That’s why the nations plot in vain. For the King’s authority is established and one day he will crush his enemies. Well, is this how you see Jesus? As the King installed by God, the promised Son of God, the one who has the nations and the one who rules with an iron sceptre? Is this the Jesus you know and love? If not, then you have misunderstood him. For this Jesus is the Jesus of the Psalms, indeed of the whole Bible. The King’s authority.


3) The King’s Demand (vv10-12)

But then lastly and briefly we discover the King’s demand. And this demand can only make sense in the light of the rest of the Psalm. You see if this Jesus really is the true Jesus then he demands our very all, life itself. Verse 10: "Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment." In the light of this King’s staggering authority, what must we do? Well says the psalmist, we must be wise. We must serve the Lord with fear and rejoice in him. We’re to kiss the Son. The Reformer John Calvin wrote that "the beginning of true wisdom is when man lays aside his pride and submits himself to the authority of Jesus Christ." Well let me ask have you done that? Have you bowed the knee before him, have you kissed the Son, as the psalmist puts it? To kiss a ruler was a sign of submission and service. Have you done that? For this is the Lord who demands our service and respect.

But notice what kind of service it is. It is both fearful service and joyful service. We’re to serve him with fear (which I take to mean not afraid but a healthy God fearing awe for the King of kings) and joy. And as Christians that will be our experience. Serving the Lord Jesus is a wonderful experience. Yes he is the awesome King of kings and we are to come before him with trembling. And yet he is also the Lord who delights in our service, who longs for us to delight in him. Serving him is a not a drudgery, not bondage as the nations would have us believe. It is a delightful and joyful experience. What service can you do for him this week? What difference will knowing this King make in your life this week? You serve the king of kings. He has the right to make huge demands on your life.

But notice before we finish that Jesus is the one from whom we cannot take refuge but in whom we can take refuge. "Blessed are all who take refuge in him." We cannot flee from him, but we can flee to him. If we come to him we need not fear his wrath. The cross has made that possible. The king who reigns in majestic splendour is the same King who died for us on a cross. Bush fires are a common experience in Australia. And not only is there human suffering, but there is also animal suffering. One of the pictures which I found particularly moving was of a mother hen who had been caught up in the flames. Her body was completely blackened by the awful fire around her and she had died. And yet as the flames passed by, two little chicks had nestled under her wings and were kept safe from the fire. And when the fire was over, these two little chicks were able to come out and live their lives. They had been saved from the fire by the sacrificial act of their mother. They had taken refuge from the flames under the arms of their mother. Blessed are all who take their refuge in him. Jesus is the King who if you like has borne the fire of God’s wrath for us, so that we need not take it ourselves. What he asks is that we come to him and live for him, in the light of that sacrifice, serving him faithfully and joyfully. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. For that is the King’s demand.

Earthly kings plot in vain, and they come and go, as the tide ebbs and flows. But the King of Kings stands enthroned for ever. Yes he is a rejected King, and yet he is the true King whose authority is clear for all to see. He will demand an account from the scoffers. But for us the challenge is clear. To lay down our pride and take refuge in him, and then to serve him with godly fear and great joy. For in this there is great blessing.


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